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IIST e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Dramatically-Changing Myanmar Six free Japanese newspapers published and an upmarket residential district in Yangon outskirts | Hirotaka Yamakawa Guest Researcher Jiji Research Institute Jiji Press [Date of Issue: 27/December/2013 No.0226-0912]

Date of Issue: 27/December/2013

Dramatically-Changing Myanmar
Six free Japanese newspapers published and
an upmarket residential district in Yangon outskirts

Hirotaka Yamakawa
Guest Researcher
Jiji Research Institute
Jiji Press


Myanmar is changing at a furious pace. A string of Japanese freesheets have appeared, and an upmarket residential district is under development in the outskirts of Yangon. In Yangon, foreign companies' billboards are sprouting up everywhere, and traffic jams are more frequent than last year.


Last month, I visited Myanmar, the country known as "Asia's last frontier". In just over a year since my trip there last fall, I was surprised to find that six Japanese free newspapers were already in circulation. In the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, an upmarket residential district is being developed, and within the city foreign companies' billboards are everywhere, while traffic jams are a lot more frequent. Following its March 2011 transition from military to civilian rule, Myanmar is changing at a furious pace.

Since around last year, the number of foreigners visiting Myanmar has continued to grow. Every month, some 4,000-5,000 Japanese are going there. Looking at these foreign visitors by nationality, Japan is second after Thailand. Most Japanese visiting Myanmar are businesspeople. Some 800 Japanese are actually stationed in Myanmar, still well down on the 50,000-strong Japanese in Thailand.

New Japanese freesheets keep appearing

New Japanese freesheets keep appearing

Waiting list for advertising space

However, there are six Japanese freesheets in Myanmar, most launched this year. Can they survive financially in a country where there are only around 800 Japanese nationals? Six papers in operation when there are fewer than 1,000 Japanese stationed locally would suggest fierce competition, but apparently yet another paper is about to hit the presses.

One free monthly newspaper has a circulation of 17,000, of which 10,000 copies are published in Japan and 7,000 in Myanmar, making the Japanese circulation greater than in Myanmar. It would appear that the target audience is not just Japanese stationed locally and Japanese visitors to Myanmar. These papers are also looking at Japanese firms considering setting up operations in Myanmar and people planning on traveling there to see the sights. The number of Japanese companies requesting advertising space is increasing, with demand so strong that some freesheets continue to run waiting lists.

More than 40 Japanese restaurants in Yangon

Sushi, ramen and other Japanese restaurants have also been on the increase as of this year. Where Yangon only had around 10 Japanese restaurants last year, this has now swelled to over 40. According to one Japanese businessman stationed locally, one restaurant has four Japanese chefs. With Japanese companies continuing to pour into Myanmar, the number of Japanese restaurants too will inevitably grow.

I visited the large-scale Thilawa Industrial Estate, joint development of which by Japan and Myanmar began at the end of November. En route, I noticed a number of luxury high-rise apartment buildings almost midway between Yangon and the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, about 40 minutes out of Yangon by car. It was amazing to find a luxury residential district being built on the outskirts of Yangon.

30-million-yen condominiums

These buildings are part of Star City, a massive project being developed by the Myanmar's industrial conglomerate SPA Group which entails the construction of high-rise apartment buildings, office buildings, large-scale supermarkets, golf courses and other facilities with the aim of creating a city with a population of more than 10,000 by 2020. The SPA Group is also apparently hoping to cater to the Thirawan Special Economic Zone, where factories, shopping malls and other facilities are moving in. According to a Star City guide, a number of Japanese companies which are involved in the development of the Thirawan Special Economic Zone have already taken up leases in Star City.

According to the plan, apartment buildings will contain both condominiums and rental apartments. Condominium prices will be between eight million yen (for a 60 square meters apartment) and 30 million yen (120 square meters). Rental apartments will charge between 90,000 and 200,000 yen a month. As the monthly wage for a Myanmar's worker is around 10,000 yen, these prices will be well beyond the range of ordinary people of Myanmar. Some condominium sales have already begun, drawing around 60 percent of buyers from Myanmar's wealthy class. Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and other foreigners are also apparently buying apartments with Myanmar's citizens as the registered title holders.

High-rise apartment buildings in the outskirts of Yangon

High-rise apartment buildings in the outskirts of Yangon

Samsung billboards dominate the landscape

In Yangon, the number of brand-new billboards from foreign companies has skyrocketed. Korean electronics major Samsung Electronics is a particularly potent presence. Even inside Yangon International Airport, Samsung's advertising presence was marked. Panasonic, Toshiba, Canon, Kyocera and other Japanese companies too had billboards in the city and in the airport, but the Japanese presence was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Samsung advertising.

Even US soft drink major Coca Cola, which is back in Myanmar for the first time in around 60 years, had a lot more billboards up. When I went to Myanmar last year, it was hard to find a Coca Cola billboard; this time, it was easy. I also spotted billboards from European companies including Nestl?, which manufactures and sells brands like Nescaf?. The US and Europe imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar for many years, but these have now been lightened or lifted altogether, resulting in a flood of US and European majors into Myanmar.

Samsung Electronics billboards dominate the cityscape (Yangon)

Samsung Electronics billboards dominate the cityscape (Yangon)

More traffic jams in Yangon

There are more cars in Yangon now too, as well as more traffic jams than at the time of my visit last year! More than 90 percent of cars on the streets are Japanese, many of them used vehicles. Almost all small taxis are Toyota-made, along with some mini Suzuki models. With Suzuki resuming auto manufacturing in Myanmar again in May this year, there were more Suzuki models generally than during my last visit.

I also noticed more automobile dealers in Yangon. Last year, there were almost no foreign car dealers, but this time there were Suzuki and other Japanese auto dealers, Hyundai and Kia from Korea, and a number of US and European auto companies, including Ford Motor Company from the US and Mercedes Benz from Germany. It was very apparent that foreign firms are now pouring into what was once "Asia's last frontier."

(original article : Japanese)
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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